By India-Pakistan cricket game standards, this Asia Cup opener last night was pretty lame despite the last over heroics. Blame it on or credit it to the players, who despite the pathology of nutters in both countries, show a healthy respect, even affection, for each other. The pain of loss and the joy of victory on a cricket field is totally different from the one we experience from our couch, the principal difference being those on the field gave it their all and those on the sofa rest on their fundament, getting up only to fetch their chai-samosa, beer-chips, or whatever was on the menu last night. Not counting the superstitious ones whose batootie remained glued to the seat.
In the annals of great sporting rivalry, nothing comes close to India-Pakistan matches because it involves both nationality, and at least for one side, religion, in a situation where cricket itself is a religion. England-Australia for the Ashes, Green Bay Packers versus Chicago Bears in American football, New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox in baseball, Los Angeles Lakers versus Boston Celtics in basketball, Real Madrid and Barcelona in soccer etc don’t come anywhere close to it because they do not involve a potent mix of religion and nationalism that sucks in more than 1.5 billion volatile people.
In fact, there is so much tension imbued in India-Pakistan games that my own feeling is that, assertions to the contrary notwithstanding, even the players are consumed by it. As a result, the fare they dish out is fairly mediocre. Today’s game was an example. Both sides underperformed, and the side that made less mistakes and held its nerve won. The bowling and fielding was decent but the batting was scratchy, and I cannot recall one electrifying catch or runout or moment of brilliance — except perhaps the match winning six, and that too because it was, well, match-winning.
Speaking of match-winning sixes, it has always intrigued me that people still talk about Javed Miandad‘s last ball six in Sharjah many moons ago, and how it scarred a whole generation. Is it simply because it was the first time something like that had happened in an India-Pakistan game, that too of the last ball? Because as I recollect there have been plenty of occasions when India has pulled off a last OVER six — without taking it to the last ball. Aside from today, I recall the off-spinner Rajesh Chauhan pulling off one, as did Harbhajan Singh in another game. I guess last ball win has a special place in cricket lore.
One other reason this game was rather devoid of the usual passion and potency could be that it was a group game, and every knows or anticipates that the two sides will meet again, perhaps twice, including in the final. The organizers have set up the draw in such a way because that’s how the advertising lolly rolls in, but not for nothing is cricket called a game of glorious uncertainties. After the way they creamed Sri Lanka in their opening game, I would love to see Afghanistan enter the final and even win the event, if nothing else to inspire the Taliban to wield a bat instead of a gun or a whip. In fact, a Afghanistan-Sri Lanka final would be just the tonic the two countries need — much more than India or Pakistan — but that I guess would be a nightmare for the cash registers.

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